Originally published 02/27/2013
A new database launched Wednesday lets Britons curious about their family history uncover some potentially uncomfortable information - whether their ancestors owned slaves.Researchers at University College London spent three years compiling a searchable listing of thousands of people who received compensation for loss of their "possessions" when slave ownership was outlawed by Britain in 1833.About 46,000 people were paid a total of 20 million pounds - the equivalent of 40 percent of all annual government spending at the time - after the freeing of slaves in British colonies in the Caribbean, Mauritius and southern Africa."This is a huge bailout," said Keith McClelland, a research associate on the project. "Relatively speaking, it is bigger than the bailout of the bankers in recent years."Compensation for slave-owners was opposed by some abolitionists, who argued it was immoral, but it was approved as the political price of getting the 1833 abolition bill passed.